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UCU calls for an end to the “culling” of science departments

A union has warned that a planned closure of an award-winning physics department would “make a mockery” of the UK’s support for sciences.

The University and College Union (UCU) has expressed its concern, which comes after recent government pledges towards the sciences including an £18m package funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) this month and £3.5 billion commitment to science and innovation from the Department for Trade and Industry.

Joint general secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, addressed the University yesterday: “To listen to what ministers, business and academics have to say about science in this country, one would assume that the future is bright and we”re all committed to moving forward and meeting the challenges UK science faces in a globalised future”.

“However, individual vice-chancellors, like Gordon Marshall at Reading, still have the power to fly in the face of expert opinion and wield the axe. He is not alone”.

Despite the University Senate ruling out any threat to physics closure, Reading announced plans to shut the department last month, with a concluding meeting to be held on 20th November 2006.

“Seventy science departments have been shut in the last seven years”, she continued. “This is despite the fact that the rising demands for chemists, physicists, engineers and lab assistants means that by 2014 we will need to find 2.4 million people with appropriate skills to fill these vacancies”.

“UCU is calling for an immediate end to the culling of science departments. Gordon Marshall’s decision to axe the physics department makes a mockery of the commitments from government and elsewhere to UK,” she said. “The UCU will fight the proposed closure all the way”.

Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, said: “I am extremely disappointed that the Reading University authorities have made this snap decision which makes no sense in light of successful funding bids and the investment of millions of pounds of taxpayers” money”.

“I will be writing to the vice-chancellor asking for an explanation and pressing him to rethink, consider the wider perspective and not be so short-sighted”.

Annabel Hardy.

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